The Philosophy of Masturbation


My chief criticism of Max Stirner is that, for all his cleverness, he never divined a way to discourage the disciples his work would generate by way of a crude misunderstanding. Bored by the endless pages describing just how steeped in the ego are the spooks believed in by common man, they studied with libidinal intensity those passages which more or less justified the pure inescapability of the ego altogether as something to revel in and make a meaning of one's life. This is certainly the first mistake of many one makes as a reader of Stirner.

  I certainly made every mistake possible in my own reading of Stirner. One reads him as a young man, not quite seasoned in the world, and finds in the philosophy of egoism a seemingly unperturbable excuse to sew one's wild oats for the rest of one's life. One reads him again when one is older, weathered and in one's good wits in relation to what in life is insurmountable, and one sees not a philosophy of freedom, but rather, a philosophy of non-freedom; a brilliant phenomenology of human self delusion and history's long climb up a mountain whose final destination would see everyone enslaved one and the same by their own neurotic need to create idols. Stirner's solution to the problem he presents is different from Schopenhauer's call to 'deny the will to life' only in degree. It is rather not about what is being denied but what is being affirmed; particularly, the Unique, which many an English translation has seen fit to capitalize to rival words like God or the One or the Absolute. This very rivalry is, it would seem, of no vital importance to Stirner, but rather more like an elaborate game into which one can throw one's whole life, or a notion to which one can offer up a sort of passing prayer of thanks for one's propensity to enjoy and give pleasure without scruples.

  It is precisely this unscrupulousity which is fundamental to Stirner's method of critique. What does one owe a truth? This would be Stirner's question for today's postmodernists, deconstructionists and materialists. So much of their energy is spent on unmasking truths that they never stop to ask the fundamental question which the existentialists were always closer to: even if something or other were true, what difference does it make if it does not interest me?

  Here we have the fundamental Stirnerian tenant: interest. It would even rival love as that thing which makes the world go 'round.

  Because Stirner is not putting forward a 'philosophy' per se, and perhaps because he would appear to be entirely unconcerned with the veracity of his claims as it could be said that one had simply failed to carry out the the full application of his thought if one did not believe him, it is often then assumed by his admirers that the ego is interesting in itself. As his admirers each suppose that they mean roughly what Stirner means when he says 'Unique' and 'egoism,' and because they find this idea interesting, they then challenge us, not with any kind of new interesting game, but in our very endurance to withstand their tedious sentiments about themselves. They preach egoism as they would any gospel, and because this gospel can only be understood in terms of one's own ego, they are always talking about themselves. Because this interest recognizing faculty is so fascinating to them, they've completely stopped being fascinated with anything else beside it. This is not necessarily to their discredit, if that is their true way of life. However, the rest of us suffer in the presence of one who identifies as an 'egoist.' Stirner may well have quite simply meant that all people are egoists whether they realize it or not, and then to give a final middle finger to the 'truth' before enjoying his own business without scruples, but he left, in his warpath, the worst kind of charlatanism one could ever take pains to stomach.

  How many people can truly read the Novatores and the Benjamin Tuckers of this world without feeling that maybe one has wandered into someone's sock drawer?

  I'm much friendlier to the apocryphal intellectual connection between Stirner and Nietzsche and what some have said about it: that Nietzsche had been a secret admirer of Stirner's work and that his own work was a means of exorcizing Stirner's insurmountable conclusions in favor of something bigger and beyond... A crude and incomplete notion, certainly, but nevertheless, the best disciple is the one who sets himself the task of reaching heights the master dare not tread.